Progress brings stress, opportunity to Lake Area neighborhood

By By Justin Phillips / American Press

“We love our neighborhood. It’s peaceful out here,” Angela Runyon said as she settled onto her couch. She and her husband,

Chuck, were just getting in from their kids’ morning soccer games. “I mean, there’s a lot of traffic, but it’s nice. It’s

quiet. We’d hate to see all of that change to businesses.”

Angela is one of more than a dozen

homeowners living off West Prien Lake Road bracing for change. Lake

Charles is growing.

Businesses are moving in, roads are under construction, and

housing is being torn down and rebuilt. The city is preparing

for an expansion. Still, families like the Runyons scattered

throughout the area are concerned about one thing — Lake Charles

losing some of its small-town charm.

“Look in front of Target, for example,” Runyon said. “Look at the billboards and things they have over there. That’s what

I don’t want. I just don’t want this place to turn into a concrete jungle.”

On Arvilla Lane, change is hitting close to home for the Runyons. The new Golden Nugget Casino being built just a few miles

from their house has created a domino effect for other changes.

With the new attraction, the state

Department of Transportation and Development has fast-tracked the

construction of an interchange

to accommodate traffic demands along the Interstate 210 corridor

between Cove Lane and Nelson Road.

In a recent City Council meeting, an

agenda item called for an amendment to the official zoning map of Lake

Charles to rezone

property on the north and west sides of West Prien Lake Road near

Cove Lane from residential to a mixed use. The Runyons are

among a group of homeowners who would rather keep their zoning as

residential.

“There’s no hard feelings for the

homeowners who want mixed use. We don’t fault them in any way. We

understand,” Runyon said.

“Some of those residents will probably live where they are for a

little while, but it will all eventually go to businesses.

Our neighborhood is just looking for compromise.”

Angela and Chuck bought their house in

2007 and have done extensive remodeling since. It’s home, but with the

coming construction

and a real question for what the future holds for the area around

them, the thought of leaving is a topic they’ve discussed.

“I’d hate the thought of leaving. We

love this house, but we would consider renting it out and building

somewhere else if

it came down to it,” Runyon said as her husband sat down in the

living room. “I’m all for progress, but it needs to be directed.

It can’t just be beneficial for businesses.”

In a neighborhood where most of the families bought homes to escape the nuisances associated with living close to the center

of a city, the coming construction plans are a problem for the local homeowners.

“We feel like there’s no long-term plan

or vision in the city and in the end, it hurts more people that are

looking to move

into the city,” Chuck said. “To them, it just doesn’t look like a

nice, clean place anymore. We love Lake Charles. It’s the

perfect size, but right now, the city has outgrown itself. It’s a

6-foot kid trying to put his foot into a size-three shoe.”

Across the street, Angela’s neighbor,

Bruce Hamilton, is covered in dirt and working on some of the plants in

his yard. He

said he moved to the neighborhood for a number of reasons, but the

possibility of being closer to busy traffic and businesses

wasn’t one of them. Hamilton has been a homeowner in the

neighborhood for years, even selling the Runyons the house they’re

in, but it’s hard for him to see the coming changes as beneficial

to the area.

“My concern is for the residents. We all moved here because we wanted a neighborhood,” Hamilton said. “The traffic is bad

enough already with everything the way it is now. Then with the influx of people because of the casino, you’re adding more

traffic and things are only going to get worse from there.”

Hamilton said he supports the idea of the city progressing as a whole, trying to capitalize on business opportunities.

“I’m all for progress, but I’m more worried about what’s in the details,” he said.

Around the corner from Hamilton and

Runyon on West Prien Lake Road, Bryan Williams is setting up a birthday

party for his

14-year-old son. Williams’ house is on a piece of land his family

has owned since the 1940s. Slowly, he’s been getting pinched

by the city, losing more and more land to Lake Charles’ growth.

First, it was the family ranch that had

to be shut down as the interstate was built. Now, it’s a casino and

more work on the

roads. He still has a few horses. In fact, he’s one of only a few

within city limits to have livestock. Still, with the changes,

he isn’t sure how much longer he has left at 2600 West Prien Lake

Road.

“I’m going to hold on to it as long as

possible, but I want to prepare myself for the future,” Hamilton said.

“I want to get

the most value for my land. I figure I have about two to five more

years before we have to really make a decision about what

to do.”

Williams is one of several homeowners

who will be directly affected by the coming roadwork. He is also part of

a group that

hired an attorney to represent them when dealing with the

residential and mixed-use zoning debate. He is in favor of changing

to mixed use.

“I understand the neighbors who want to

stay residential. I really do,” Williams said. “I’ve lost income over

this over the

years too. The truth is that it’s coming; there’s nothing stopping

it. I just want to make sure I make the best decision in

the end.”

Williams said that even though he’s deciding to keep his options open by favoring the mixed-use zoning, the entire situation

is still a tough one to deal with. Most of his family history traces back to the land he’s trying hard not to give up.

“We should be able to help with the development of Lake Charles. I don’t want to stand in the way,” Williams said. “But I

do have mixed emotions about it. My family has been there since 1945.”

Marshall Simien is the attorney

representing Williams and several other homeowners on Prien Lake Road

and Cove Lane. He said

there are a lot of misconceptions about what is going to happen to

the area if every aspect is given the green light, including

the switch from residential to mixed-use zoning.

“People should know the area isn’t

going to become the wild west. Any development that comes is going to

have to compliment

the area,” Simien said. “And with the mixed-use categorization,

that means it will have to get the blessing of the City Council

before anything is done. They’re still going to have a lot of

input in what happens around them.”

Simien said the idea of change is sometimes scarier than the change itself. The city is prepared for growth and with the new

projects coming in the new fiscal year, the interchange is just the beginning.

“The unknown factor of change is always

scary to people. What is different here is that very few people are

able to have a

voice in situations like this,” Simien said. “The people I’m

representing are invested in the community just as much as everyone

else in the neighborhood.”

In the end, Simien said, the families looking to switch their zoning are trying to make the best decisions, financially. With

the Golden Nugget and the possible attractions to accompany it, flexibility may be key for the homeowners in this area.

“The construction of this roadway directly impacts them. They understand that it’s going to affect property values, so they

want to make sure they keep their options open,” Simien said.

“People have to understand, the

roadways are coming. I see it as if, if that’s what they consider to be

the lemon, then it’s

a chance to make lemonade. The homeowners I represent wanted

flexibility so their property value doesn’t drop. If they were

in the same position, they would want the same thing.”

Road Work Ahead